From The Dawghouse - Sept 22, 2013

After this many seasons in the business it oughn't surprise any more. Still, all it took was a coach's comment to toss Bulldog Country into a tizzy, almost as if the win which preceded such statements was already forgotten. What I'd forgotten is just how great is that gulf affixed between the thought processes of coach and fans.

Actually the ‘comment' is part of a longer answer to the inevitable question following Mississippi State's surprising—yes, to me a 55-point margin was surprising—rout of Troy. And so everyone can catch the complete comment as well as context, here is how Dan Mullen responded to the query: was Dak Prescott now "the guy" as the questioner phrased it. Based, he'd qualified, on not just performance but the physical dimensions in which the younger quarterback differs from senior Tyler Russell. Oh, and the questioner also used "regardless". Want to make sure I get it right.

Here is the un-edited response complete with starts-and-stops, the sort of stuff that gets cleaned-up in most cases:

"No. What we'll do, you know, our plan is…Tyler was cleared late in the week this week. So he was actually cleared to play tonight. But, not until late in the week, and at that point Dak had basically taken all the ‘one' reps. And Tyler had gotten some reps rotating in with the twos, he never took a live rep against the good defense because he hadn't been cleared for any contact. He could do some of the scout team stuff and some seven-on-seven as we'd be getting him ready. But he was cleared late in the week and we just made the decision tonight that Dak was, you know he'd gotten all the one-reps going into the bye-week now. But I mean, Tyler is our starting quarterback. You know, we plan on Tyler being the starter against LSU moving forward." So there. Make of Mullen's answer what you will…and oh boy will a lot of you do so. Our high school English teachers only dreamed we'd parse sentences in their classes with the intensity these words will receive ‘tween today and October 5's kickoff.

But if you'd heed an old Dog for a moment, don't bother. Or if one must analyze that statement like a Cold War codebreaker, do so for entertainment value only. Because in the bigger Bulldog picture any answer is irrelevant. Just as, and this might astound many, is setting a specific starter for Louisiana State.

Well, it's not entirely irrelevant. My media tribe for example is delighted with Mullen's response as it assures us gua-ron-teed topic and content for the best part of two weeks. I don't listen to sportstalk radio much as it is, and will surely avoid it now. Airwave wars between absolute advocates of Russell and Prescott, or more likely the convinced critics thereof, will entertain for about three minutes. And just like the frightening folk who call that late-night radio kook show with proof of harmonic alien convergence global Bigfoot Bilderberger warming Federal Reserve conspiracy theories, they become boring real fast. (I call those weird souls frightening because their vote counts just the same as mine and they are free to reproduce, too.)

But even the most devout Sasquatch-sighter will blink listening to Bulldog fans shred each other over who deserves first snap of next game. Me? I'll go cross-grain for now with this suggestion: ain't it great having two capable quarterbacks at Mississippi State's SEC-game disposal?

I'll admit some surprise Saturday when Mullen did not put Russell on-field in the second half, once the game was settled. And boy was it, to a degree we who were at Troy last year didn't dream. Truly, I was sweating this one. I knew the Bulldogs would score and likely a lot, just not eight times with such deceiving ease. More in a minute on this. It was stopping the Trojans which caused concern because nobody else really has. And Troy could be reasonably confident after their close '12 call (never forget it was a SEC officiating crew which ruled Chad Bumphis got the foot down on the back line). Angry too, with a point to prove since they thought they'd been robbed. So much for that motivation.

At the same time I'm equally convinced it was the Dog defense making three huge plays in the first 18 clock-minutes that turned an expected shootout into a blowout. Jamerson Love's pick-six of course, and that red-zone sack, strip, and recovery as well. State wasn't exactly stonewalling the Trojans y'know, as the first-quarter stats show. But, and here's where emotions enter in, it was how the Dogs took 17 points' worth of advantage which sent the rest of the game down the rout route. That's all I can figure about why Troy's punter lost his mind inside his own red zone and tried to run for first down. Let's also acknowledge what Kivon Coman's smart recovery and stop showed, i.e. the lengthening list of athletes Mullen has been stockpiling on the defensive side of the roster. Ditto Richie Brown's smart fumbled kickoff recovery which might, in my mind, have been THE key play all day. A Troy takeover there and who the heck knows how the rest of the evening develops?

Which again is why I'm still startled at the margin of MSU victory. No, Troy's defense ain't good and they're gonna get beat a lot more this year. They don't care either. So for State to shake them out of upset ambitions so completely is a most encouraging sign of our own program's progress. And, that they didn't suffer an Auburn hangover. I commented on-air prior to the game (you WERE listening of course?) that as risky as playing Troy was, facing a serious threat was the best medicine for MSU after the letdown. Had it been another SWAC guest, I ‘spect State would have gone through the motions as if already on an open date. Troy grabbed their attention, kept the team focused and as it played-out brought out their best. The defense now knows it can make plays and force turnovers, the ‘mayhem' Geoff Collins lusts for. This is gonna be a really, really fun bunch to watch develop as there's just three seniors starting and they don't play every snap anyway.

By similar token the offense keeps showing a little more each week. Setting aside, for just a moment more, how the quarterbacking plays into this, it is heartening to watch what a maturing Jameon Lewis is now capable of. By the way, if you missed my twitter of earlier today, thanks to reader Doug Kyle for sending me on the right historical research track to find another Bulldog who ran, received, and threw for a touchdown in the same game. Heck of it is, I was there in the stands that day when James ‘Yogi' Jones scalped Florida State with five touchdowns done in the three various ways!

And it isn't just Lewis who can make such plays, though we can't say for sure if Brandon Holloway can throw a pass. We have seen LaDarius Perkins try before and it wasn't pretty but then it didn't set-up too good either so, who knows about next time? Add the abilities of Josh Robinson and yeah, there is all sorts of home-run potential here. Same for young receivers like Fred Ross, De'Runnya Wilson, Jeremey Chappelle who are only going to improve over this season and into the next. And this is after starters Malcolm Johnson, Brandon Hill (did he sell that middle-route or what?), and good old RoJo Johnson have taken their turns. By the way, Joe Morrow did the hard part on his sideline pattern getting open and Prescott sure put the ball there. Just catch it, my man, and all is well.

Notice that of that lot Perkins is the only senior mentioned? You can bet the opposition has. We and they are going to be seeing much more of these talented play-makers in seasons to come, with Prescott presumably doing the distributing. But back to our original angle: will he count opening cadence come next Saturday? Or will a cleared and thanks to both practice and experience rust-free Russell? No, I don't expect any loss of timing nor touch from the September-long layoff. Tyler will be ready.

Will Mullen be ready to return the senior to starting status? And really, does it matter that much today? I can't imagine the Bulldogs will report to Tuesday practice in a sweat about who is The Starter, if only ‘cuz they can look ahead to the bye. Strange as it seems to us alleged adults, college kids are more interested how they'll spend a free weekend. No, really. It's that youthful lack of perspective that lets them enjoy downtime instead of being a Good Bulldog and warping into an frenzy over quarterbacks. Hmmmph, kids these days…

Somewhat more seriously though. I see the situation for Mullen and MSU as a win-win at the moment. We've got two quarterbacks who have won ball games; Russell the more of course but yeah, it's been a while. Prescott the more immediately but not as of yet in SEC play. Maybe someone can argue going with the ‘hot hand' but an open date break moots that too. Stylistically? Here now we have a better case in general, that Prescott's real running threat (not to mention receiving as seen Saturday) meshes more with the varied skill guys mentioned above. And if I dare indulge in a little coach-psyche as writers do, it just seems Mullen's core instinct in scheming requires a quarterback who can keep defenses tight. We'll certainly see this back at the forefront in '14, a return to Relf-days if you will.

At the same time it'd be a crime to waste the abundant air abilities Russell offers, especially if and as all those receivers grow in real-game knowledge and wisdom. There are opponents upcoming whose defenses are better-attacked with his arm; others offer more openings for Prescott's footwork.

Both need to play. Not in scripted series per se, and certainly not in any quota system. But, as scouting and then situations present. Remember, Mullen is not merely willing to but wants to shuttle quarterbacks in during drives or even three-play series. He's done it before and will again, and as the other ten guys onfield at the time—especially the blockers—are comfortable with both cadence-callers it won't become a disruption. To the defense, maybe, but that's their problem.

My own problem of this open-week is finishing up the next Dawgs' Bite mag issue. Nope, no break for this feller. There are about a dozen un-filled pages staring at me on the layout guide tonight. The filled ones so-far have a feature on Malcolm Johnson, a comeback kid indeed; and one on playing true freshmen built around Chris Jones (of course) with lists of all Mullen's signed frosh of 2009-13. I'm hoping to set up a Tuesday talk with Lewis for a feature, if my peers allow about ten uninterrupted minutes to talk. I do have a Q&A session on fall baseball set up with John Cohen middle of the week. The rest of the pages, well, I'll think of sump'n.

As for your week ahead, by all means spend it if you wish debating what the coach should do in regard to selecting the starting quarterback. Why you can even ring-up the Thursday evening call-in show (Learfield pays for the call so why not?) and ask. Just don't offer up any outlandish conspiracy theories, OK?

I mean, Elvis and Jimmy Hoffa tell me those get really annoying when they want to hear the coach just talk football.

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